In 2004, Manna Abraham from Chennai was looking for a job overseas. Based out of Chicago, she found one in Detroit and immediately decided to send across her CV.
It was only after she was hired that she realised it was a job at the circus (Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of America’s largest and longest-running circuses) and her new home was going to be a 60-car train! Manna was open to the new adventure in her life and hence said ‘Yes’ to the opportunity. Her work included teaching the kids of the acrobats, clowns, technicians, performers, and everyone who worked in the circus.
“I had no idea of what it would entail when I applied for the post of a ‘travelling teacher’. Little did I think it would be with a circus, perhaps the largest in the world,” recalls Manna.
As the only teacher on-board a train with nearly 300 crew members, she had a tough job on hand. Most of her students, aged 4-18, didn’t speak the language she used to teach in, which became one of her biggest challenges. She remembers, “I had to do everything that a teacher in any part of the world does, such as preparing lesson plans and looking through the work of the students.”
The deep sense of teaching was instilled in her by her father. He gifted her an atlas on her eighth birthday, and the two would spend hours studying it. With him, she also learned many unconventional ways of teaching like hands-on approaches. And so, in the circus, rather than following only the syllabus, she’d teach her students life skills that would help them in the future. This included workings of the train, spending time with the crew, learning about wiring, plumbing, etc.
Manna and her work became so famous that she became the unofficial ambassador of India among the show natives. She would talk about the country’s culture and food and even give them a 'taste' of it.
About this unusual job, Manna says, “There were other jobs out there that would have paid the bills, but they did nothing for my soul.”